Decider [New York NY]
August 31, 2023
By Anna Menta
The former head lawyer for the Boy Scouts of America denies that the organization ever lied about or covered up sexual abuse, in a new documentary coming to Netflix.
Steve McGowan served as the Boys Scouts’ General Counsel from 2013 to 2022. In Scouts Honor: The Secret Files of the Boy Scouts of America, coming to Netflix on September 6, director Brian Knappenberger, confronts McGowan with the facts: For years, the Boy Scouts insisted sexual abuse was a “minuscule” problem in the organization, only for over 82,000 men to come forward with claims they were sexually abused as children while doing Scouts-related activities. Therefore, Knappenberger concludes to McGowan, “That was a lie. That was a cover-up, right? The Boy Scouts lied about that being a problem.”
“No, we didn’t,” McGowan responds. “No, we didn’t. 82,000… over what period time? And we don’t even know that that’s the number.” Then, as if to backtrack, McGowan adds, “But one is too many.”
Earlier in the documentary, the director confronts McGowan with evidence—both from the infamous “perversion files” and from first-hand accounts—that scoutmasters were told not to tell parents or law enforcement about abuse. To that, McGowan responds, “When mistakes were made, mistakes were made. If people did that, then they were wrong. And we failed. And I’m hop- I know we’re doing better, and I hope we’ll continue to do better. But the fact is, people have sometimes made mistakes.”
McGowan also repeats several times that the Scouts are “a microcosm of our entire society.” He says, “If we had a problem, our entire society had a problem. Many other institutions had the problem. We just happened to be the one with the deep pocket right now. And the one that’s willing to make the social commitment to try to make it right and to try apologize, and to try to do everything we can to keep kids safe.”
The former head lawyer insists there is “no way” to know if someone is an abuser before they volunteer as a scoutmaster. Youth Protection Advisor/Director Michael Johnson—who worked directly with McGowan before he left the Scouts and became a whistleblower on the sexual abuse scandal—says in his own, separate interview that scoutmasters weren’t even required to provide an ID before volunteering. Johnson said he suggested at least having potential scoutmasters submit a government ID, but that the idea was rejected due to the time and cost it would take to implement.
The Boy Scouts of America filed bankruptcy in 2020, in the face of many sexual abuse lawsuits. Over 82,000 victims came forward. The organization is expected to pay out over $2.4 billion to the tens of thousands of survivors.
Scouts Honor: The Secret Files of the Boy Scouts of America will begin streaming on Netflix on September 6.
If you or someone you know needs to reach out about sexual abuse or assault, RAINN is available 24/7 at 800-656-HOPE (4673), or online at RAINN.org.